CHESS TOURNAMENTS IN HASTINGS
JAN VAN REEK
The city of Hastings is best known for the battle of 1066. William the Conqueror sailed his fleet from Normandy to Britain and landed on the flat coast near Hastings. King Harold marched the Anglo-Saxon army towards the Normans and blocked the road to London. A long and gruesome struggle took place on 14 x 1066. The Normans could take the initiative, because they had a more advanced army. Steadfast Anglo-Saxon infantry defended a hill, and a gap in their line could be restored at the end of the morning. We know little about the ensuing battle. The line broke at the end of the afternoon. Harold was killed and William became king.
Hastings became famous in the chess world for the longest series of international tournaments. Bloodless fights continue from 1895 until the present. The passion for chess began, when the Hastings & St. Leonards Chess Club was established at Albert Temperance Hotel in 1882. Later the club met in the Queens Hotel. A great boost took place, when Blackburne moved to Hastings for health reasons. He gave exhibitions, when a tradition of summer festivals began. Other chess masters gave displays later.
Herbert Dobell was the brilliant organiser of yearly events. The club proposed to organise an international tournament in 1895. Wealthy locals guaranteed the sum of £ 250 for prizes and consolation money. The amount was doubled by nationwide support. So the annual contest of 1895 became one of the most famous tournaments in history. All great masters participated. Pillsbury (16½/21) won before Chigorin (16) and Lasker (15½) the Premier, Maróczy conquered the Minor and Lady Thomas prevailed in the Ladies’ Tournament.
The festivals were resumed after the super tournament. Encounters between English districts became a main feature. Chess activities slowed down during the Great War. Everybody was happy, when the atrocities ended in 1918. A Victory Tournament took place in Hastings during the summer of 1919. Capablanca won by a staggering score of 10½/11. Kostic became second. Foreign stars crushing British losers would remain a pattern in Hastings for a long time.
Minor decisions would have historical consequences. A Christmas and New Year Congress was held in 1920/21 and a festival for boys occurred in Easter 1921. Herbert Dobell became the President of the club in the Autumn of 1921 and shaped these two initiatives into a tradition of Hastings chess festivals.
The Indian Sultan Khan participated three times. His master Sir Umar attended the closing dinner in January 1932 and was deeply impressed by Helen Kashdan. He wanted to add her to his harem and offered Isaac Kashdan £ 150.
The 1934/35 festival had the strongest Premier group in the history of Christmas Congresses. Wealthy locals paid the high costs. The candidates Euwe, Lilienthal, Capablanca, Flohr and Botvinnik partook. Thomas led by 6½/8, half-a-point before Euwe and one point before Flohr at the end of the penultimate round. Sir George was defeated by his countryman Michell in the last round. Flohr caught up by a win over Milner Barry. Euwe attacked against Norman. So the empire seemed to be in troubles. But Euwe could not break the stubborn defence and offered a quickly accepted draw. A fine dinner began. Hastings had a British winner! Sir George Thomas shared the victory with the next world champion Euwe and Flohr.
Christmas festivals were resumed in 1945. Later the festivals seemed to have little future due to the lack of foreign stars. Cheap celebrities were found in Russia. The Soviets were interested in participation, because success showed the superiority of communism. Bronstein and Tolush got their chance during the Cold War. They met the secret agent Alexander. This code breaker knew how to handle the Russians. Time limits were 34 moves in two hours, followed by 17 moves in one hour.
½ ½ 0 0 ½ 1 0 0 * ½ 3
Chess events changed housing during the fifties. The tournament was played at the Sun Lounge in St Leonards, ideal for sun bathing during the summer and rain bathing in winter. Players stayed at the nearby Royal Victoria Hotel. Club residence became Pelton House at 2 Cornwallis Terrace in Hastings.
Chess was a pastime of Jim Slater. As a corporate raider, he could contribute thousands of pounds from 1970 until 1974. Sponsorship by the manager of a company had started in Hastings. A historic Premier began on Christmas 1971. Sixteen players participated. Time controls were on move 40 after 2½ hours and move 56 one hour later. It became an even race between Kortschnoj and the young Karpov. Tony Miles got a reputation of a ‘Russians killer’, because he defeated four Soviet players from 1973 until 1975.
The stream of sponsor money to the Hastings Congress lessened after 1974 and had nearly dried up in 1985. When Szabo watched the television and learned about the prizes in snooker, he wanted to change his profession immediately.
Participation in the Premier got an impulse, when the Foreign & Colonial Management Group began its sponsorship in 1986. The six congresses from 1987 until 1992 had the level of super tournaments. Those were the days of Short and Speelman as candidates for the world championship. Eight players carried out double rounds in the Premier. Short won twice. Ten thousands of pounds were sponsored and hundreds participated in numerous groups. The time limit became in 1989: 40 moves in two hours, followed by 20 in one hour. An equal race between the 16-years-old Judit Polgár and two-times winner Evgeny Bareev happened in 1992/93.
The Hastings Borough Council had given big sponsor money for 1992/93. Thereafter, they gave sufficient funds for the survival of the Christmas festival. Local sponsors added support. The formulae of the Premier returned to ten participants. Usually, three rounds were played between Christmas and New Year and six rounds in the next year. Participation by boys and ladies had become a special feature. The Christmas Congress left the all-play-all system for the Premier in 2004. Hastings still lives but its glory has passed.
Many historical facts were found in: Reg Cload, Battles of Hastings, Pergamon Chess 1991.